WASHINGTON — Top Pentagon officials said Friday they are asking Kurdish allies now under attack by Turkish troops to continue to provide “force protection” for U.S. forces in Syria, even as the U.S. says it will not help them in their new fight against Ankara.
“We’re asking them to continue their partnership with us and continue their — a lot of it is force protection of our forces…we’re encouraging them not to over-react,” Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters at a news conference.
Milley said the Turkish invasion is still “rather limited,” with advancements of roughly 10 kilometers east and 1 to 2 kilometers west from the initial incursion entry. He said the bulk of the effort has been air strikes, artillery, and direct fire, with limited action by light infantry troops.
Ankara has said the invasion is to rid the area of alleged Kurdish terrorists. To date, however, the attack has struck civilian areas, sending the local Kurdish population fleeing. The U.N. estimated the number of displaced at 100,000 since Wednesday, according to news reports.
The Pentagon relocated roughly 50 U.S. special forces operatives from the expected Turkish military path in northern Syria to keep them out of harm’s way – the most important consideration, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters.
“To be clear, we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces, and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria,” Esper said. “The impulsive action of President Erdogan to invade northern Syria has put the United States in a tough situation.”
Esper and Milley said they spoke by telephone to their Turkish counterparts regarding the invasion.
Milley said there would be no excuses for Turkish troops hitting a location where U.S troops are based. “The Turkish military is fully aware down to explicit grid coordinate detail of the locations of the U.S. force,” Milley said. “Everyone is fully aware we are the United States military, we retain the right of self-defense.”
He said the U.S. continues to operate with its Kurdish allies in areas away from the Turkish incursion. He also said not all Kurdish forces have started heading north to confront the Turks, even though the units have been given instructions to move.
Two NATO nations — the Netherlands and Norway — told CNN they are freezing weapons exports to Turkey in response to Turkey’s Syria invasion and targeting of the Syrian Democratic Forces.